Kennel Club accused of failing to act on breeding concerns

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The producer of a controversial BBC documentary about health problems in pedigree dogs has accused the Kennel Club of failing to take sufficient action in the wake of the programme's revelations.

In a broadside timed to coincide with the start of the Crufts dog show tomorrow, Jemima Harrison said animals "continue to wither genetically" despite the concerns raised in the programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

In an open letter published tomorrow in the magazine Dogs Today, Ms Harrison accused the Kennel Club of giving the green light to inbreeding.

Referring to certain pedigrees she said: "Some breeds are paying a horrendous price in terms of genetic disease, wounded immune systems and lifespans that, for some, average just six or seven years old."

Her comments come 18 months after the programme sparked concerns by claiming Crufts, the world's most famous dog show, allowed animals bred using damaging practices which cause disease and deformities.

The controversy prompted the Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, and the Dogs Trust to jointly fund an independent inquiry which made a number of recommendations to tackle inbreeding in pedigrees, puppy farming and other welfare issues.

The club later launched a breed information centre on its website to help prospective owners find responsible breeders in their area and see which type of dog would best suit their lifestyle.

But Ms Harrison branded the measures inadequate and condemned the continued practise of breeding a dog with second-degree relatives such as a grandfather with a granddaughter or an uncle with a niece.

"Despite a few press releases promising to tackle genetic diversity, you are not doing enough to truly deal with this key issue," she wrote.

"Yes, you responded to public outrage and last year said you would no longer register the progeny of mother/son, father/daughter and brother/sister matings - a repellent practice that had gone on for far too long."

But she said the organisation had refused to introduce any further breeding restrictions.

"Indeed, you've stated recently that you still think it is all right to mate a grandfather to his own granddaughter as long as they are both 'suited'," she wrote.

Referring to the "devastating genetic erosion" of certain breeds, she called for "strong leadership" from the Kennel Club, writing: "It is time now to properly tackle this bigger issue - because, until you do, the dogs will continue to be inbred into oblivion."

Responding to the charges in her letter, the Kennel Club said it was developing new health tests and measuring genetic diversity within breeds to "ensure that the right actions are taken for dogs, on a breed by breed basis."

A statement said: "The Kennel Club is committed to ensuring that every dog's life is as healthy and happy as it can be.

"Whilst dog shows such as DFS Crufts are an opportunity to monitor and improve the health of dogs through conformation, or the way that they are built, we also need to ensure that they are healthy on the inside.

"The Kennel Club's new Canine Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust is the hub of invaluable research into genetic diversity that will help towards this end."

Research will be fed into a new database developed by the club called Mate Select, which will enable breeders to assess the impact of a proposed mating on genetic diversity as well as health.

The database will ultimately contain vital information about cross breeds and help to improve the health of pedigree dogs and cross breeds, the club said.

Crufts will be broadcast on More4 this year after the BBC - which began screening Crufts in 1966 - announced it was dropping its coverage in December 2008.